In these trying economic times, Minor League Baseball teams would do well to adhere to this simple, time-tested refrain -- When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
That's certainly what the Trenton Thunder and the Lakewood BlueClaws have done. On Tuesday, the clubs jointly announced an unprecedented initiative for the 2009 campaign: All kids 12 and under will eat for free, at every game, all season long.
The Thunder and the BlueClaws share the same ownership group and are the only affiliated Minor League teams in the state of New Jersey. As such, they are united in their desire to provide a low-cost form of quality family entertainment.
"In Lakewood, we've branded different days of the week, like 'Kids Eat Free' on Mondays and 'Senior Days' on Tuesdays," said BlueClaws General Manager Geoff Brown. "So now we're taking that concept even further. We're a big part of our community, and the Thunder are a big part of theirs. We decided it was necessary to do something bold in order to help families, so that they could continue to come out and spend some quality time together at the ballpark."
From an operational standpoint, the 'Kids Eat Free' deal is simple. As kids enter the ballpark, they will receive vouchers good for a hot dog, a bag of chips and a 12 oz. soda.
"Is this a sign of the times?" asked Thunder General Manager Will Smith. "Perhaps it is. We did the math, and we know what we'll be losing. But we also hope to gain in ticket sales, because this is something that can benefit everyone, whether they are season ticket holders, or part of a group, or buying tickets the day of the game. And at the end of the day, we want to be aggressive, and we like being the leader. We hope this is the sort of thing that can generate great feelings within the community."
"We're surrounded by New York City and Philly, and in both places people are experiencing sticker shock when it comes to professional sports," said Brown. "That has led people to call us. They might not be able to afford a personal seat license for the Jets or Giants, or to make their annual trip to Yankee Stadium, but they can look at us as an affordable alternative."
Smith made a similar point.
"I was talking to one of my clients last week, and he was telling me how he took his two daughters to see a movie," he said. "They had spent nearly $60 by the time they got out of there. He said to me 'I know we can get a better deal at your ballpark'. I told him, 'Just wait until you see what we've got planned for next week.'"
In Minor League Baseball, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. What remains to be seen is if other teams around the country will follow the lead of the BlueClaws and Thunder.
"I've heard from a few guys around the Minors, like 'Dude, you guys are nuts!'" said Smith. "I'm glad they think so, but I'd be surprised if at least a few other teams don't follow suit. This is all about adding value to the price of a ticket, which is what we're all trying to do."